At 14, Sam Schimmel participated in the Color of Justice, a program that strives to get young people interested in careers in the legal field. His Native corporation, CIRI, selected him for one of the program’s first cohorts of youth and brought him to Anchorage from Gambell, Alaska, to attend the two-day event.
“I grew up in a community where, if there were legal problems, people just didn’t have money to have an attorney,” he said. “In Gambell, if someone had a telephonic felony hearing, and if they had a public defender, it was an attorney with 150 cases. Representation was not ideal.”
Color of Justice opened his eyes. For the first time, he heard directly from attorneys about how laws and the legal system could be shaped to serve Alaska Native people.
“It was really there, at Color of Justice, that I saw how and what I wanted to do, that I wanted to go and be an attorney who could benefit our people,” Sam shared.
Fast forward seven years, and Sam has just finished a summer with the Alaska Native Justice Center’s (ANJC) Native Law Clerkship program. The opportunity, he said, put him on the “other side”—no longer just learning about areas of need within the legal system, but supporting the team that works to fill those gaps.
The clerkship gives law students hands-on experience working in the field of Native law. For 10 – 12 weeks each summer, ANJC’s law clerks assist the organization’s legal team with a variety of cases, gaining a first-hand view of how our state and federal laws affect Alaska Native people.
Committed to the Native Community
Now a student at Georgetown Law entering his second year, Sam has always been an engaged citizen.
In addition to participating in Color of Justice (which ANJC supports in partnership with the Alaska Court System), he served on the Youth Advisory Council for Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), where he helped develop youth-focused programs. He was appointed by Alaska Governor Bill Walker to the Alaska Climate Action Leadership Team, and founded the Voices of Alaska Native Youth Community Project for the Alaska Federation of Natives Conference.
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sam organized Operation Fish Drop, a grass-roots initiative to ensure that Alaska Native elders and families had access to traditional foods during a time of hardship.
Law school hasn’t slowed him down.
“I’ve got a lot of other work going on outside of school,” he said. “So I wanted to be here in Anchorage, or anywhere in southcentral Alaska [this summer]. ANJC’s mission and values aligned with mine, so I decided to apply for a clerkship here to gain the experience of being part of an organization that serves our Native population.”
This summer, Sam worked with ANJC’s attorneys on “a host of different stuff,” from custody matters, to domestic violence cases, to helping clients apply for protective orders. He also worked on larger research projects meant to support the work of ANJC attorneys.
“I never thought I’d be making a timeline of someone’s drug use. But that did happen, about week four on the job,” he said. It’s practical tasks like those that shed light on the reality of working difficult cases for Sam.
“Somebody’s got to go down those rabbit holes and do the work.”
Most importantly, Sam got to be a part of the solution: He helped ANJC play its role in ensuring that Alaska Native people are fairly and adequately represented and protected within the legal system.
As summer ends, Sam will return to Georgetown Law—but he plans to return to Alaska with his law degree.
“I certainly think I’ll be coming back to Alaska and working hard to ensure that our communities have the representation that they need in order to get the stuff that they want done, done,” he said. “Just making sure that our communities have what they need to do what they want.”
About the ANJC Clerkship and Fellowship Programs
ANJC’s Law Clerk and Fellowship programs encourage law students and recent law graduates to work in the field of Native law while providing opportunities to pursue a wide variety of projects. The programs contribute to the development of the Alaska Native law leaders of the future, whatever their career paths in the field might be.
• Law Clerk. A law student who works while in law school. Full time employment for 10-12 weeks, often in the summer. Part-time employment is also an option. The term “law clerk” is also used to describe a recent law school graduate that works for a Judge – AKA a ‘clerkship’ or ‘clerking.’
• Law Fellow. A recent graduate from law school that may not have passed a bar exam. Fellowships offer full time employment for one to two years and allow the fellow to gain valuable experience while continuing to learn. ANJC Law Fellows are provided exposure to a variety of Alaska Native legal issues while engaging in research and writing, litigation, communication with clients, and administrative advocacy, among other kinds of work.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.